Taking mindfulness online

Coca-Cola, UBC sign on for pilot program

Mindfulness training is all the rage these days. With many employees stressed out, overworked or overwhelmed, more employers are offering the training as a way for people to learn how to relax, rewind and rejuvenate.

“It’s about employee engagement; it’s about employee wellness and employee productivity — there’s so many different angles to it,” says Geoff Soloway, training director at MindWell Canada.

“It’s a training that supports the person and the profession, so the person is more focused, less stressed. That’s going to benefit the employee personally — they’re going to be happier… and they’re going to do their work better.

“It’s cultivating awareness in our lives at a very basic level.”

But one of the challenges with the training is traditionally it’s offered over six to eight weeks, with two hours per week. For that reason, MindWell Canada is launching a pilot program in November that would be 30 days long and be available online. 

“One of the biggest barriers to mindfulness training thus far is that it’s typically run in a multi-week structure… and that’s logistically and financially difficult for organizations, for busy people,” says Soloway.

Moving the program online will make it more accessible, as will shifts in the language and type of practices taught, he says.
“We’re trying to broaden that stroke so more people are interested in taking the training.”

The online training will also ask participants to invite a buddy to accompany them in the training because people are more likely to follow through if they have a workout buddy in physical exercise, and this is a mental exercise, says Soloway.

The pilot program, which will look at impacts on areas such as productivity, retention, stress reduction and conflict management — will ideally start with in-person workshops to familiarize people with the program.

“The 30-Day Challenge was designed using similar principles to the eight-week course so that participants learn new skills and are able to integrate them into daily life with daily support and guidance, yet the content is available anytime, anywhere and on any device, making it more relevant and accessible to a wider population, many of whom can’t sign up for a weekly course because of their work schedules,” he says.

UBC looking to learn
The University of British Columbia signed on for the 30-day pilot program after going through a research study on mindfulness at work back in 2014. That six-week program involved 84 participants led by Soloway for two hours each week, as well as a four-hour mini-retreat between weeks four and five.

The mindfulness-based stress reduction program consisted of practices such as yoga, body scans, focused awareness and open awareness, mindful eating and walking, and meditation. Participants could access the mindfulness practices using smartphone applications or the Internet. They were asked to complete a 10- to 20-minute daily practice outside of work, as well as a three- to five-minute daily practice at work. 

They were also to complete weekly readings, reflective exercises and weekly logs, participate as a learning partner with another participant on a weekly basis, and received a weekly email from the instructor reviewing homework for the week.

In the end, the researchers found the [email protected] program increased participants’ overall levels of mindfulness; creativity increased in the training group; participants were less likely to report feeling powerless and withdraw from conflict situations; and there were significant improvements in emotional regulation, according to Soloway.

The self-reported increases after the program were in people’s ability to handle stress, personal resiliency when faced with challenges, and workplace productivity, says Miranda Massie, health promotions co-ordinator, health, well-being and benefits, human resources at UBC in Vancouver.

“One of the interesting pieces was around interpersonal relationships and interpersonal conflict resolution and that’s something throughout HR — it’s woven through our advisory services work, it’s woven into our managerial training and development, in our organizational development and learning programs; it’s in our academic leadership program — it’s a thread that carries through.
“This is always something that we’re going to be faced with as long as we’re working with others and with different personalities.”
Mindfulness training makes sense in a time when workloads are heavier and people are feeling pressure between work, family and home and all the different responsibilities, she says.

“We’re constantly surrounded by technology and demands and multitasking and I think that this is coming in right at the height of that and providing potential solutions and a way for folks to take control of themselves over their situation, over their environment,” says Massie.

“We’re trying to provide our staff and faculty with these specific skills and skill sets that they can build and they can use so that over time they will become more resilient and that over time our organization as a whole and our department and units and our campus will be healthier places.”

And hopefully the online model will capture a difference audience at UBC, such as folks who might prefer that type of learning or have conflicting schedules, says Massie.

Coca-Cola signs on
Coca-Cola is getting involved with the pilot because this kind of program just makes sense for employees, according to Tova White, Toronto-based vice-president of human resources.

It’s about simple, easy-to-use techniques that really help people focus and stay in the moment, she says.
“In these busy times, we all have a tendency to be mentally running through a list of things we have to do… and it’s probably not the most effective way to go about our days, so it’s about taking a few moments to recentre and reground, do maybe a quick body scan and just be present.”

The company is very interested in the health and well-being of the communities in which it operates, and that translates into the workforce, she says.

“We do a lot of work and initiatives in the area of associate wellness — we believe it’s the right thing to do. We also believe it’s a great way to attract people to our organization and we believe that our associates, if they’re well in body and mind, that they’re more productive,” says White.

“Anytime that an individual can be more present and in the moment, they can show up as their best self, and if they’re managing their work-life stresses, then obviously they’re going to be a happy and productive person in all aspects of their lives,” she says. 
“They’re just looking for different ways to approach how they go about their day.”

The 6,200-employee Coca-Cola has done a lot around fitness challenges and healthy sleep and diet, but it was interested in a program that looked at other aspects of a person’s wellness, including their mental and psychological health, she says. 
It has already run three lunch-and-learns on mindfulness for some salaried associates, and the response was overwhelming, with full participation in both.

So the 30-day challenge with MindWell seemed like a natural fit, says White.

“If we can offer them (the training)… through technology — we’re also very interested in innovation — for associates coast to coast, that would be a win-win for us.”

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